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Blogs, lawsuits and education on the minds of the seven Hamburg board candidates

The only thing that can be said with certainty is that on May 21, there will be at least two new members elected to the Hamburg School Board.

Those who attended Monday’s (May 13) Meet the Candidates forum run by the League of Women Voters had the chance to learn how the seven candidates felt on key issues before going to the polls next week.

The panel included one incumbent, current Board President Joan Calkins, along with Sheila Ruhland, John Callahan, Laura Heeter, Catherine Forcucci, David Yoviene and Gary Klumpp.

Three seats will be up for election, all that will carry three-year terms. Two current board members, Diane Reynolds and Matthew Dils, did not seek reelection and their terms will expire at the end of June.

During opening statements, Ruhland said she opted to run out of concern for the fiscal constraints facing the district and that she would like to find creative ways to help the situation.

“I am a 10-year resident of the Hamburg School District,” Ruhland said, noting she has a fifth grade student at Armor Elementary and a 10th grader at the high school.

“The teachers have really helped my kids with the support they’ve given,” Ruhland said, adding her children have benefited greatly from the sports and music programs offered through the district.

She said she would work together with other board members as a team to help achieve these goals.

Callahan is a 1987 graduate of the district who believes his leadership skills and abilities could benefit the board.

“I’m a long-time resident of Hamburg,” Callahan said. “I’ve always been very proud.”

Callahan has children in the district and said there are tremendous teachers who need the board’s support. He sees the budget and security issues as being important, but also there needs to be a board that works together better.

“It has to be a unified board,” Callahan said.

Heeter, who ran in 2012, said she has been preparing for the chance to serve as a school board member for a couple of years.

“My husband and I are long-time Hamburg residents,” Heeter said.

She has one daughter that has graduated, a 10th grader at the high school and two children currently at Union-Pleasant Elementary School.

Heeter said what she knows first hand is that Hamburg has “exceptional teachers.”

In the last two years, Heeter has attended every board meeting and budget work session, and she is concerned about the atmosphere at meetings.

“Our district has become a little bit of a circus,” Heeter said. “We need to unite to bring Hamburg Schools to the level they once were.”

Forcucci called herself a “proud Hamburg graduate,” who has had one child graduate and another one still in the district.

She told the audience she is concerned about the wasteful spending of the board.

“I have a great amount of respect for teachers within the district,” Forcucci said.

She believes there is distrust among many for Superintendent Steven Achramovitch and is concerned with how the board and the district handled the recent Annual Professional Performance Review, which was recently passed after the district and union reached a stalemate in January when the plan was initially due.

“I am concerned about low morale,” Forcucci said.

Yoviene, who has seen two of his children graduate, with one in fifth grade at Armor Elementary, said his background shows why he would be a good member.

Through his volunteer work, he helped rebuild St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy and volunteers for Habitat for Humanity.

“I know how to get stuff done,” Yoviene said.

He called a lawsuit by the district against board member Sally Stephenson, her daughter Lyndsey and teacher Martha Kavanaugh “bizarre,” as they are accused by the district of allegedly taping an executive session in September of 2010.

Yoviene said if he is elected, one of his first goals would be to seek new revenue sources for the district to help with budgetary constraints.

Calkins said as a single parent of five children, a local pediatrician and four-year member of the board of education, she understands the issues facing the district and the board right now.

She believes the board has done a good job in keeping taxes reasonable and below the tax cap levy while working hard to maintain programs, while cutting administrative costs by about $200,000.

Calkins said the district offers “superb aid to all sorts of children.”

As far as the APPR, she believes that in the end, the district and the union reached an agreement that both sides were pleased with.

“I will tirelessly work for our kids,” Calkins said.

Klumpp, who was a few minutes late, said he is running for a number of reasons.

“We have a lot of pride in the district,” Klumpp said.

He would like to see better communication and transparency on the board.

Klumpp said it is still an excellent academic district with a graduation rate that is in the top 20 percent in Western New York.

But he is concerned that teachers are being forced to teach too much to questions on state mandated tests instead of creating a better learning environment.

“The creativity is being lost. Especially in the middle school,” Klumpp said.

Callahan told the audience he did not see himself running for the board a few months ago. But that changed for him.

“I saw a real need for leadership at this position,” Callahan said.

Heeter said she has spent the last couple of years working on how to be a good candidate for the school board.

“I want to do what’s best for taxpayers,” Heeter said. “I really have a handle on what’s going on around here.”

Forcucci said she has not been able to attend school board meetings on a regular basis, but has attended all of the budget work sessions.

“I am a hard worker. I’m zealous,” Forcucci said. “We are coming up on a financial crisis.”

Yoviene told the board he feels prepared as he has been to the last six budget work sessions and studies minutes from all of the meetings.

“I am prepared for this. I am upset with what I see,” Yoviene said.

Calkins said she has never missed a meeting since being elected to the board and puts in about 15 hours a week worth of commitments as a school board member.

She said it is a challenge to balance being a mother, serving on the board and running a pediatric office, but believes it is worth it.

“I do indeed have time for what I choose to make time for,” Calkins said.

Klumpp said he is kept up-to-date with a lot of what is taking place, noting he talks with board member Sally Stephenson about the meetings.

“I’m there in spirit,” Klumpp said.

He would like to see the board put an end to the lawsuits it is involved in.

Ruhland admitted that in the past, her time was restricted at night due to her job, but a recent change in her position makes her available to serve.

She has kept up with what is taking place.

“I’ve read all of the minutes,” she said.

When asked whether the candidates would support the budget, the answers produced mixed results.

Heeter said she absolutely supports it because a contingency budget could cause trouble.

Forcucci said, “that’s a tough one.”

She is concerned that there has been a nearly 21 percent overall increase in taxes in the last four years, but said she planned to vote “yes” on May 21.

Yoviene does not see any other choice but to vote in favor of it.

“I don’t support it, but I’m going to vote yes,” Yoviene said.

According to Yoviene, he would stop wasteful spending in future spending plans.

“I absolutely support this budget,” Calkins said.

She said the board worked hard on the budget, dealing with state mandates and increased costs.

“Not much in our life is getting much cheaper,” Calkins said.

Klumpp said on May 21, he will not vote in favor of the budget.

He said he is upset with a “frivolous lawsuit” and is concerned that the reserves are being depleted.

Ruhland intends to vote yes next Tuesday.

“I do believe Hamburg is committed to academic excellence,” Ruhland said.

Callahan said he will vote in favor of the budget, but, “as taxpayers, we’ve had enough.”

He believes the money must be taken care of much better.

When asked about cyber-bullying, candidates seemed pleased overall with programs aimed to combat the issue at the district.

“We are running great programs at the school right now,” Yoviene said.

He also brought up the issue of the blog website,

The school district recently issued a subpoena to Google in an attempt to determine who runs the site as part of the ongoing lawsuit in regards to the alleged illegal taping of the executive session almost three years ago.

Yoviene said in this case, he did not see content on there as cyber-bullying.

Calkins agrees that the district has great programs, but believes adults can do a better job serving as role models to students.

Calkins said as far as the blog site, she is not concerned about whether an anonymous blogger says something about her.

“People can attack me because I’m a public official,” Calkins said.

Klumpp joked that things are different from when he was a student.

“The days are gone when we can meet at a fence and duke it out like when I was a kid,” Klumpp chided.

He said parents need to take more responsibility when it comes the things such as the Internet and Facebook.

“It’s not (the school board’s) responsibility to raise kids,” Klumpp said.

Ruhland said she agrees that these issues should be addressed at home.

She went on further to say that she believes students should not be allowed to have cell phones in the high school.

If a situation like what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut ever happened at Hamburg, Ruhland believes it would be detrimental for students to have cell phones.

“Parents would come flying to the school,” she said.

Callahan believes there is nothing worse on a child than cyber bullying. He said his family was a victim of it.

“It’s a really nasty thing,” Callahan said. “I’d rather be punched in the face 10 times.”

Heeter feels the guest speakers at the middle and high schools have been beneficial, and that discussions at the dinner table have been great for her family.

Heeter was also in agreement with Ruhland over cell phones.

“I would like to see a zero tolerance policy for cell phones,” Heeter said.

Forcucci said that not only should cell phones not be allowed in school, she thinks cyber bullying would be reduced if computers, cell phones and laptops should not be allowed in a child’s bedroom.

Another question which brought a variety of answers was about whether parents should be allowed to remove their children from having to take standardized tests.

Klumpp said standardized tests are creating “little robots.”

He believes teachers waste valuable time worrying about preparing for tests rather than teaching.

“I’m kind of concerned about the standardized tests,” Ruhland said.

She believes there is not enough time being spent on learning.

“I’m totally against standardized testing,” Callahan said. “Teachers are here to educate our children.”

Heeter remarked that the irony in the “No Child Left Behind” act is that these tests are leaving children behind.

She believes teachers should be allowed to get back to focusing more on education and less on tests.

“They’re not supposed to be driven by a test,” Heeter said, adding it should be the parents decision on whether the child takes the test.

“These tests are a terrible injustice to our kids,” Forcucci said.

She agreed that teachers need more time in the classroom focusing on teaching, rather than test preparing.

Yoviene supports parents who decide to opt their children out of standardized testing.

“They’re teaching to the question,” he said, adding that it is “sinful” watching what his fifth grader has gone through.

Calkins said she would not allow her children to opt out of the tests.

“It’s a growing process,” Calkins said, adding that students need to be prepared to take tests in the future.

She believes the better way is to work with state leaders to change the tests.

“Let’s get the tests to be more reasonable,” Calkins said.


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